EMMAUS BOROUGH COUNCIL
The hot topic of the night at the Emmaus Borough Council April 20 online Zoom meeting was COVID-19 and the current impact it is having on Emmaus.
Borough Manager Shane Pepe started the meeting by recognizing each of the borough’s emergency service departments for the continuous hard work they’ve been putting in during this entire situation.
“Each of our departments in one way, shape or form has changed their operations … and has been affected by furloughs, by budget cuts, by purchase cuts, by operation change and by additional safety measures that we’re taking,” Pepe said. “They’ve been nothing short of spectacular.”
He especially wanted to thank the emergency service chiefs — Police Chief Charles Palmer, Fire Chief John Price and Ambulance Chief Jeffery Hoffman — for their continued leadership in helping guide the departments and making sure all operations are running as safely as possible.
Pepe gave an additional thank you to the Emmaus Police Association, the borough’s police union. He received a letter stating the department will defer their clothing allotment payment until August. This saves the borough $9,000.
“We hope that this helps keep people employed and we hope that this offsets some of the surprising costs that we have with the PPE [personal protective equipment] purchases that we’re facing,” Pepe said.
He said it’s not often one sees unions volunteering to do these types of acts, especially full-time police officers, because they know their job is safe. He sincerely appreciated they did this voluntarily. The EPOA president said if the borough is still struggling in August, to approach him for another conversation.
Regarding the borough’s budget, Pepe said they are in bad shape. Roughly 25 jobs have been affected in some way, whether it’s furloughs or a severe reduction in hours. The longer this goes on, the deeper those cuts will be.
While the water and sewer bills are being paid on time by residents, the issue is the revenue the borough typically gets from fees, permit inspections, pavilion rentals, seasonal pool passes and ambulance transport is not coming in.
Property isn’t being sold either, which is a major revenue source for the borough. When properties aren’t transferred, the borough doesn’t receive tax money.
The borough gets roughly $2 million a year in labor taxes from residents and they’ve already lost around 10 percent of that due to the amount of residents whose jobs have been affected by the current situation.
“When you’re a borough or a city, we ride on very low margins and that’s not a whole lot of money for us to be able to swallow,” Pepe noted. “That’s one of the reasons that we’re making the cuts that we need to make.”
Residents also just received their real estate tax bills. Council has to have a discussion on the course of action regarding extending the discount period, as the commonwealth is considering a bill to extend that period.
“Here’s where our dilemma is,” Pepe said. “We’re at a point right now, where we don’t know if we’re going to make our next payroll. Does it make sense for us to extend a discount period if we can’t pay our emergency service workers to work?”
Pepe said if they decide to extend that discount period, they will most likely need to borrow money in the meantime to get through this situation. “That’s a conversation that council is going to have to have, and a very serious conversation we need to have.”
The borough has received $21,384.77 from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund, which is being used to support health care related expenses and lost revenue specifically attributable to COVID-19. Pepe said the money just “magically” showed up in their account and they were not informed it was coming.
There are several implications the borough is concerned about before they accept this money, some of which could be very significant. They have 30 days to decide to accept or reject the payment.
One of the things being weighed, is if they accept the payment, are they looking at possibly losing overall revenue.
“One of the attachments that comes with it, is we aren’t allowed to bill patients for the difference. So if their [patients’] insurance companies gives us $300, we have to accept that as full payment” Pepe said.
In regard to lost revenue, it is compared to money received the previous year. Right now, ambulance calls are down 60 percent in the borough.
Pepe does not think there will be taxes on the money, but noted there are enough strings attached that they’ll be asked for money back if they don’t prove every single penny. Pepe however, is not concerned about meeting the financial threshold, as they have already spent $15,000 on PPE. In addition, with the amount they’ve lost from 911 call transports in the last month, he thinks they are already double or triple the $21,000 threshold.
Regarding PPE for the emergency service workers and other borough employees, Pepe said they received 500 masks last week, have an additional 2,000 masks coming in this week and another 200 the following week from a different source. Face shields and Tyvek® suits are still in stock as well. He said they should be good for at least a month and a half, if not longer with those supplies. Hand sanitizer is the only concern right now.
The main message the borough wants to send to residents is to keep practicing social distancing, as they are seeing some groups in town that still aren’t adhering to the request. Pepe said residents need to understand the risk and how one never knows who is carrying it or who they are going to affect.
“The conspiracy that people think that may be going on, isn’t a conspiracy at all,” Pepe said. “Our recommendation is while it stinks — nobody likes this — just ride it out a little longer.”
In other business, Resolution 1201 passed its first reading, which will establish a one-way street on East Greenleaf Street to Elwood Street heading south and the apex of Williams Street to Wenner Street heading west.
Councilman John Hart said residents used to drive slowly on these streets, as the road was rough and needed repair. Once the street was repaired, people began speeding and the street is already too narrow to accommodate two cars going at the appropriate speed. All residents on the affected streets were informed by the police and it was an unanimous agreement to establish the one-way traffic flow.